Sometimes I try to be at least a BIT cognizant of what’s going on in the gaming world, and it’s not the worst thing. For instance, the second game in the One Deck Dungeon series, Forest of Shadows, just launched on Kickstarter. Got me thinking that I hadn’t reviewed the original, so, here we are. Plus, I just did Sagrada last week, so colorful dice must be in vogue for me.
In One Deck Dungeon, your adventuring party feels like, well, dungeon-crawling. As you do. It’s not the biggest dungeon in town, but that doesn’t mean it’s a pushover in the slightest. Can you / you and your partner survive? Or is this dungeon one deck too many?
So, you wanna delve into a dungeon? Well, the first step is figure out who you are:
Once you’ve picked a character, flip it to either the 1P or 2P side depending on your player count, and then pick the dungeon you’re foolish enough to enter:
Each of these bosses has their dungeon on the backside of their card, along with one, two, or three dots to indicate difficulty (three is hardest). Next, you’re going to want to shuffle the Door Cards (and put the Stairs card on the bottom of the deck):
As well as get the various dice ready:
There are also some black dice, but they’re a bit tough to see with my specific photography style.
You’ll next want to set aside the various heart and potion tokens (give yourself one white potion token to start the game):
Once you’re ready to play, your play area should look something like this for a 1P game:
It might have another character for 2P, but it’ll look pretty similar.
The game is played until you either defeat the boss or take your health as damage. So, how does a turn work?
Well, at the start of every turn, you flip two cards off the top of the deck. This represents time passing. Next, you have two options:
- Enter a Room
I’ll cover each in turn.
Exploring is how anything in the game gets done. If you currently have no Door cards in front of you (and you won’t, on your first turn), you need to put up to four face-down in front of you and end your turn. If there are still some face-up, you only can have four Door cards, so just take what you can. Your first turn will be Exploring.
Enter a Room
This is the majority of the game’s time, though, as you kick down a door, only to realize that behind the door are traps and monsters!
Now, you’ll notice that the various boxes are various colors (and there are boxes of various colors on your Dungeon Card, too!), so you need to do a few things before you get to the dice chucking:
- (OPTIONAL) Flee. If you’re just like, “Nope, don’t want.”, you can high-tail it out of the room. This ends your turn.
- Check if Peril or Combat: If the card has a greenish bear trap symbol, it’s a Peril. This generally means that you can choose one of the two presented options, but you only roll dice of that color. That might be tough if you’ve got two Agility (pink) options and you’ve only got one stat.
- Prep your Dice. You should take one die for each symbol in that color on the left side of your Character Card. This includes items you’ve taken. If you’re going to use your Heroic Skill, do so now.
- Roll Dice. Now, you take all the dice you have available for this room and roll them. A variety of things can happen.
- If any of the boxes have a green shield, those are Armor boxes, and must be filled before any other boxes can be filled. There will occasionally be Armor boxes on your Dungeon Card as well, so make sure to check.
- A die can be added to a small box if the color is either matching or if it’s a black (Heroic) die, provided that the number on the die is at least the number shown in the box. For a wide box, the color rules still apply, but you can add multiple dice to sum to that value.
- If you need certain dice, you can discard two of your rolled dice to the Supply to get a Heroic die with a value equal to the lower of the two dice. So if you discard an Agility 4 and a Strength 2, you’ll get a Heroic 2.
- You can also use Skills! Some skills cost Mana (spend Magic dice with values up to the shown value), some skills require 1 – 3 Strength or Agility dice, and some skills can just be used for free once per round. Make sure to check the symbol on the Skill, as some skills can only be used for Combat or Perils. Unless otherwise stated, each skill can only be used once per round. Any dice gained as the result of a skill are discarded at the end of the round.
- If you have extra Potions, you can use those too! As long as you have cubes, you can use as many Potions as you want.
- Check Results. Now, how’d the battle go? Well, check every empty box and add up the time (hourglass) and health (heart) symbols. You lose one of each symbol that’s uncovered. If you lose time, flip cards from the top of the deck. If you lose health, well, you get closer to dying. If you are about to die and have Potions left, you can still use a Healing Potion, but it will only heal 2 damage. If you’re still alive, you keep moving. Note that in a two-player game, players must take damage equally, but they split the damage. This means that if you and I are dealt four damage, we each take two. If we’re dealt three, either you take one and I take two, or you take two and I take one.
- Claim Loot. Regardless of whether or not it was a Peril or Combat, you get loot! Generally speaking, you can claim a card three ways:
- XP: You add the card to the right of the Level card. If you have at least the same number of Lanterns pictured as the card requires to gain a level, you gain a level! Remove those cards from the game, and then move to the next level card. This will usually gain you a Potion, and might even gain you a Heroic Die to use in subsequent encounters!
- Item: You add the card to the left of your Character card. It adds an extra symbol (or two!) to your character, giving you another die to roll on subsequent turns. The number of items you can have at a time is limited by your level.
- Skill: You add the card below your Character card. This gives you an extra ability on subsequent turns. Like items, skills are constrained by your level. You cannot have two of the same skill.
- Potion: You add the card below the Potions on the Turn Reference card. You immediately gain a Potion cube, and you can now use Potion cubes as either Potion. It can be handy in a pinch. You cannot have two of the same Potion.
If you take an item or a skill and you cannot hold it, you can convert one of your current items or skills to XP. That might come in handy at some point.
That’s pretty much an entire turn. Now, eventually, you will run out of cards in the deck and be facing the Stairs. This adds a third option to your turns:
If you choose to descend deeper into the dungeon, discard the Door cards currently out and reshuffle the deck. Some characters gain bonuses from going deeper into the dungeon, so resolve that now. You’ll arrive on the next floor of the dungeon, so move the Turn Reference card down to expose more of the Dungeon Card. There are now additional boxes that need filled during every encounter. Tough!
If you choose not to descend, you’ll add any time taken as heart tokens on the Stairs. Once that hits three, you take one of those hearts as damage! Don’t stay on a level too long. This will keep happening until you descend or you die, so maybe think through your life choices.
Once you descend on the third level, there is no more Dungeon Card left to expose. This means that you come face-to-face with one of the Dungeon Bosses! Flip the Dungeon Card over to expose them. They are … seriously hard to beat.
As you might guess, you can’t beat them in one round, so you have to try and fight them off without dying over a few rounds. If you cover one of their skull icon squares, you deal one damage to them. They run out of health, you win! You run out of health, they win. As you might guess. Oh, and as you might notice from the icon on your Character’s Heroic Skill, you can’t use Heroic Skills against Bosses. Sad. Sometimes, though, you can get lucky and actually win:
Do your best and escape the dungeon a winner!
There’s also a Campaign Mode that lets you gain extra skills over multiple plays, which is fun. Simply check off boxes as you accomplish feats like gaining a level (one box), descending (one box), or defeating the boss (three boxes!). You can eventually specialize in skill schools, but you can only pick one Focus, and you must fill out the Focus box before getting other skills.
For instance, here’s my Campaign Sheet for Luna, my Paladin:
Player Count Differences
Honestly, not a ton of differences at two players, and I like it about the same at both player counts. Here’re the main highlights:
- Players split damage. As mentioned earlier, you split as equally as possible, but you need to try and equalize the damage taken so that players never have a disparity of more than one heart.
- You can choose which player rolls the Encounter Die, once it’s unlocked. Doesn’t really matter.
- You can share dice to make Heroic Dice. You hate your Agility 2? Awesome, my Strength 2 is useless. Let’s combine them to make a Heroic 2.
But yeah, it’s worth playing at 1 or 2. Fun at both levels.
It’s a lot of dice-chucking, but there’re still some smart things you can do to try and maximize your odds of success:
- If playing with two players, try to pick complimentary Characters. Two Strength-focused Characters are going to have some trouble on Agility-based Perils, so try to keep that in mind.
- I generally buff up on as many items as possible, at first. This lets me pick how I want to sacrifice items for XP (usually I just trade up, or better yet, convert high-XP items rather than low-XP items). I do the same for skills, once I hit my item limit, unless I see really good skills.
- Some skills are really useful for your character. Get them. Static Burst, for instance, is 4 Mana to add a Strength 4 and an Agility 4 and increase a die by 1. That’s really good for magic users. Usually just recommend doing things like that.
- Be careful about time. The more time you can spend on a floor fighting monsters, the happier you will likely be (unless you keep getting bad rolls), so try not to waste time. This will let you get more / better Skills, Items, and Potions (and XP!), all of which are an important part of a balanced dungeon-crawling experience.
- Fleeing isn’t always the worst idea. Sometimes it’s best to just ignore a Peril because, say, it wants an Agility 8 and you only have one Agility Die. Sure, that’s a bummer, but discretion is the better part of valor. You can come back to it later.
- Sometimes the best idea is just going for it. A four-XP encounter isn’t going to get much easier, and sometimes you’ve got just the right setup to survive it. So get in there and get a good item.
- Item-wise, the stat + HP items are good, hence why they’re the reward for four-XP encounters. I try to grab only those, if possible, and I convert the rest to XP over the course of the game.
- You need to hit Level 2 pretty quickly. That bonus Heroic Encounter Die is really useful, generally speaking, if you have good dice luck.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the focus on inclusivity and representation. The art is great, the characters are great, and I’m really excited about the game’s female-centric cast. It’s cool to see more types of people represented in games, and Asmadi deserves some praise for choosing to go in that direction.
- Lots of colors and great art. Characters aside, the rest of the art is really great, from Glooping Ooze to the bosses to the bright, colorful dice. It’s really got a lot going for it, and it’s very eye-catching.
- Plays pretty quickly. Takes about 30m? Not bad at all for a nice break.
- Nice, tough decisions. Usually it’s because you’re trying to make the best of a really bad roll, but it’s got some stress to it, which I appreciate.
- Small, portable, two-player cooperative games are nice. It’s not got a huge box (even though it can take up a fair bit of space when played), so it usually ends up in my bag on trips, which is nice.
- I literally always forget the Dungeon Card has Challenge boxes on it. I think it’s just a little bit outside of my vision’s focus, so I forget about it. It made my first few games kind of invalid, which was frustrating. Just something worth keeping in mind.
- It’s really hard. Or I’m really bad. It could be both. I don’t find the difficulty frustrating, but it’s definitely a bit harder than I expected. I’m not sure that this is a “Meh” as much as it is just a statement about the game.
- Would love to see more variety in the cards. Can only see Locked Door so many times in one dungeon. I think this will get fixed pretty handily by the Forest of Shadows Kickstarter, though. Looking forward to combining both games.
- Not a ton of early-game luck mitigation, which is tough for a dice game. If you get unlucky and take a lot of damage before you have skills or potions to mitigate bad rolls, you can just get wrecked. Some people will undoubtedly find this very frustrating. I find that I prefer dice games with heavy luck mitigation (Roll for the Galaxy, for instance, falls in that boat for me), but given that it’s a shortish cooperative game, I’m not as explicitly bothered.
- Has a fair bit of nuance to the rules. Many players will forget how passing time works (especially since the first dungeon [the Dragon] causes you to lose 5 time on the first turn on each floor), some will forget how Heroic Dice or Skills work, and some will forget that there are Peril-specific and Combat-specific skills. I know because all of these things happened in games that I’ve played. I think it’s just a consequence of making a smallish-box game. The icons are a bit small and are a bit miss-able sometimes. I think this gets a lot better once you play the game more and start remembering important details of the rules, but even then I find myself missing bits and pieces from time to time. When teaching new people, I just kind of give a light overview of the game and tell them “let’s just launch into it and I’ll explain on the way”, which works out a lot better for me than trying to explain and give examples for everything.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think One Deck Dungeon is a solid little dungeon-crawler! I’d love to see more ways to mitigate tough rolls, but then again, it’s also fine to view it as more of an experience (like Betrayal at House on the Hill), so the dice rolling part is not like, super important. Also, we talked about One Deck Dungeon (and other games) in terms of inclusivity in art in the last All-Inclusive Game Chat I was invited to be a part of, and I think it does an awesome job! I think it’s clear to me what kind of game One Deck Dungeon is trying to be, and I think it hits its mark pretty well. It’s a neat concept, and I look forward to seeing what comes next in Forest of Shadows!